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Public Safety Finally Joins the Mainstream with FirstNet, Chairwoman Tells APCO Attendees

As FirstNet and NG 911 mature, public safety will benefit and need to address challenges.

FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson lauded the recent progress of FirstNet and said the public safety community will now have the challenge of assimilating an unprecedented amount of data with the development of FirstNet and NG 911 at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International 83rd Annual Conference & Expo, Tuesday in Denver.

Swenson told the breakfast crowd of APCO attendees that the number of states and territories to opt in to the network has reached 13 and that this development puts public safety in the mainstream for the first time.

Many were skeptical not long ago, she said. Swenson began working on FirstNet in 2012 when legislation was approved, and it was a path that had never been trod before. “People thought, ‘This is just another iteration that won’t work,’” she said.

That changed when a contract was awarded to AT&T, marking a massive public-private partnership that fairly quickly sent out FirstNet plans to states and territories through a portal. Swenson assured attendees that subscribers will be the beneficiaries of AT&T’s commitment to public safety, along with a $40 billion investment over the next 25 years. Subscribers will also have access to AT&T’s LTE network.

Tools are now becoming available and will be in place for the public safety community, enhancing safety and efficiency in the field. Knowing what and whom to expect on a call, the benefits of much greater access to data, will be a great boon to law enforcement, for example, but with that protocols must be developed on how to assimilate and deal with all the data used.

Leadership: Just Say Yes

The keynote speaker Tuesday morning was retired U.S. Army Col. Jill Morgenthaler. She served three decades in the military, including during the Iraq war in 2004 and served as director of Homeland Security for Illinois.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Jill Morgenthaler
Jeff Callen

Retired U.S. Army Col. Jill Morgenthaler. Photo by APCO International

Morgenthaler outlined her vision of leadership and it included hiring differently and finding the gifts each person has and leveraging them. “Be curious and find leadership skills in each staff,” she said. “As leaders, find the ‘big guy’ and the ‘little guy’ and use their gifts.”

She said public leaders today are in the habit of saying no. Instead, she said she learned in the Army to say yes and find a way to get it done. “’No’ is really the easy answer. Figure it out. How do I do this?” she said.

She said optimism, compassion and hope are traits of effective leaders.

“People model your mood.”